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MOVIE REVIEW

'Baby'

Tale of an Asian American gangbanger sells its ethnic angle short.

February 26, 2009|Gary Goldstein

In theory, a film about Asian American youth violence would seem like a unique, if not quite mandatory, niche filler. But "Baby," a tragic tale of an essentially decent East L.A. kid who falls into thug life, is an uneasy mix of bloodshed and sentimentality that rarely digs beneath the surface of gang mentality, much less its specific place within Asian American culture. Trappings aside, the story feels ethnically interchangeable, relying more on routine movie criminal philosophies ("We gotta do what we gotta do!") than on mining distinctive territory.

The movie, directed by Juwan Chung from a rudimentary script he wrote with Felix Chan, shuttles between 1986 -- when a motherless young boy known as Baby (Ryan Andres) commits his first gang murder -- and 1993, after Baby (now played by David Huynh) is released from seven harrowing years in juvenile hall. Inevitably, the freed, toughened-up Baby quickly resumes gangbanging, to the consternation of his alcoholic poet father (Tzi Ma) and childhood friends Petey (Peter Cho) and Sammy (Christina Stacey). But when Baby runs afoul of Benny (Feodor Chin), a survivor from his old crew who's now a ruthless gang leader, the film devolves into a generic, revenge-driven shoot-'em-up, with predictable results.

Chung depends too heavily on stylized montages and scene fades to move things along, further hampering a narrative that, while not unrealistic, often lacks authenticity. A dialogue polish would have helped matters as well.

Though earnest and intermittently absorbing, "Baby" seldom truly rises above its creative and budgetary limitations.

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'Baby'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Language: In English, and in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles

Playing: At the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 617-1033

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